What Does Grassroots Organizing Look Like?
In Chicago, grassroots organizing in support of grow-your-own teachers initiatives mostly happens outside of issue-specific interest groups; instead, it has grown out of the work of a coalition of grassroots neighborhood associations in collaboration with institutions such as public schools, local universities, and local and state government associations.
The movement for teachers to come from the communities they educate can be traced back to the work of the Logan Street Neighborhood Association, which helped build this grassroots network, leading to successful lobbying for the Grow Your Own Teachers Act in 2005. The act has built teacher-pipeline programs in communities of color. Below is a sample from the act, which you can read here:
Of course, in and out of Chicago, grassroots initiatives promoting teachers of color and teachers who come from the communities that they educate exists outside of this network started by the Logan Street community.
- Protesting & Lobbying: the large number of organizers has helped the Chicago movement achieve public attention and a reputation. Their size and power has helped them successfully work to achieve the Grow Your Own Teachers Act.
- Coalition-Building: creating a network of community organizations has allowed the movement to achieve power in Chicago
- Partnering with colleges and the government through the Grown your Own Teachers Act has allowed grassroots organizers to implement a pipeline that helps parents and other community members get on the track to become teachers.
- Small-Scale: less visible organizing is just as important. This includes:
- Formal and Informal Networking: to support teachers of color who face extreme burdens that often force them to quit their jobs. When teachers of color have the opportunity to share their experiences with each other, they build collective resilience.
- Parent Engagement: Having parents be involved in schools strengthens schools as educators and participants in local politics. Parents show their potential to become teachers in their communities and help change their schools for the better.
The lack of teachers of color is part of the feedback loop of white supremacy in America and its education system. It is both the effect of systematic racism (schools and communities stripped of resources stop students of color from becoming teachers) and one of its causes (the lack of teachers of color prevent students from achieving):
Barriers people of color face to becoming (and staying) teachers:
- Discrimination in the classroom (ex/microaggressions that tell them they are inferior)
- Barriers to higher education
- Poverty: Not being able to afford college or having familial obligations that get in the way
- Lack of resources in schools and communities, which prevents students from graduating (and becoming teachers)
- Government shutdown has caused the Grow Your Own Teachers Act to temporarily lose public funding
- High-stakes standardized testing portrays students of color as inferior
- School shutdowns breaks down communities organized around schools
- The proliferation of charter schools, which block people of color from taking charge of their own education
What has been the impact on organizing for those involved?
Community organizing has created networks for people of color to share their triumphs and struggles and to find a voice. Specifically, these grassroots groups make spaces in which teachers of color and would-be teachers of color learn to feel empowered to pursue social justice in the classroom. Because of this, more and more people of color can achieve the dream of becoming (and staying) teachers in their communities.